Gone Too Fur
Vincent ran a lingering finger around the rim of the empty Fancy Feast can, popped it into his mouth, and sighed wistfully. Father had prepared dinner nicely, as usual, but he rather wished the old man would remember that his furry "offspring" had grown somewhat in the past fifteen years. Although most cat food companies accommodatingly manufactured larger cans of their product nowadays, they didn't make "six-foot-tall-tabby" sized portions, and Mouse simply couldn't carry those twenty-pound Cat Chow sacks down into the tunnels. Not that Vincent liked dry cat food. The stuff tasted like wet cardboard. He'd written to Purina complaining once—in his best poetry, too—and had never gotten a reply. Of course, it would have helped if he had a mailbox and a zip code.
A tap-call came in on the pipes at that moment, distracting him from hungry fantasies of fat pigeons in the park above and he paused to listen, then snorted in disgust when it only turned out to be an anonymous obscene tap-tap. Someday he was going to have to find out who the perverted geeks in the tunnel were. It would never do for the children to hear all those obscene suggestions involving "pussy."
"Father?" Vincent turned his perpetually troubled eyes on his proxy parent and mentor. "Is this a good time for us to talk?"
"Certainly," the old man answered from across the chamber, where he was concealing a spoon. "You know you always have my ears, Vincent."
The leonine eyes blinked. "Actually, I thought I had Lassie's. That's the point, Dad: I'm not getting any younger and neither are you, and it's been nigh unto three seasons now, and I was kinda wondering…." Vincent hesitated.
"Speak up," Father prompted, chasing dark, shadowy things around the chamber with a fly swatter and cursing under his breath. "I can't understand why you never talk above a blasted whisper. Nobody's going to hear us under all this rock, damn it."
"The neighbors complain when I roar," Vincent reminded him softly.
"I don't give a flying flip what that ridiculous Phantom has to say, do you hear me?" Father paused to wave the swatter at his "son" sternly. "He's made a mint off of that loudmouthed Diva of his Above, on Broadway. He can afford the insulation."
Vincent changed the subject hastily. He didn't want anyone to suspect that he'd had a somewhat steamy accidental "encounter" with the Phantom's young songbird in the underground lake once. The Phantom had discovered them and Vincent had barely gotten away with his furry hide intact. It was no accident that the man now wore a mask to cover the scratch marks, and Vincent doubted he would ever be forgiven.
I wish Father would spring for a declawing job on me someday. I'm getting tired of guys in masks wanting to make kitty-litter out of me, he sighed. "Listen, Father, I've heard a dozen different ridiculous stories of my origin already," he said, getting right to the point. "I'm getting kind of mixed up and my blood pressure isn't so good anymore. Is there any chance at all you've got some kind of clue, some hint you haven't told me about, yet?" Vincent begged.
Father paused, scratching at his dusty clothing thoughtfully. "Did I tell you the one about the lawn clippings from the park and the radiation?" he asked.
"Yes," Vincent flinched. "Not even the network bought that one."
"How about the one about Paracelsus and the dust bunny collection?"
Vincent stared coldly at his father.
"Oh. Well what about the Cabbage Patch—?" Father trailed off weakly. Then, he sighed. "I'm sorry, my boy. The truth is just what I've maintained all along, no matter what anyone tells you. I found you in a wet K-Mart bag outside the dumpster behind the Burger King on the West Side Highway. There was a piece missing from one of your little ears, so I named you 'Vincent.' " The old man's eyes were full of sympathy. "You were so cute and so forlorn, I just couldn't leave you there." He sighed theatrically again. "There was also something of a rodent problem down here in the tunnels and I was kind of hoping you'd grow, er, into the problem and take charge of it, given your, uh, nature."
Vincent slammed an angry paw onto the table, sending empty cans and Bic ballpoints rolling and flying. "That's just the point! I don't understand my nature! My blasted nature is driving me bonker-bananas! What's worse, I've got Catherine to think about."
"This is a problem?" Father scoffed with something of a leer. "I should be so tormented to have a fashion-plate broad coming down to the tunnels to coo and cuddle and pet me. Especially if I looked like I had five-o'clock shadow…all over," he emphasized. "I wouldn't complain, if I were you."
"That's just it," Vincent growled. "I'm not ungrateful about the love between Catherine and myself; there's something supernatural about it, almost. As if—as if there were some kind of eternal, loving link between us that could never be broken. Our love is beautiful—pure. Unearthly. But I just can't figure it out, and it's driving me crazy! I don't even know what I am, Father." Vincent tried to pout for the thousandth time, forgetting once more that it was difficult to perform without benefit of lips. He hung his head for a particularly artistic, soulful camera shot.
Father gazed at his emoting "son" with deep sympathy. "All right. I have a confession to make to you, Vincent… I had a long talk with Catherine some time ago and I think it shed some light on your…problem."
Vincent's head snapped up. "Why didn't you tell me?!" he snarled.
"Too early in the series," Father explained. "Where's your sense of suspense? Anyway, she told me a story about her childhood that seems insignificant now, but I believe had vast importance to all of us." He sat down in his favorite chair and bent his head, taking a deep breath.
Vincent leaned forward, tensely expectant. He hoped his fur wasn't standing on end—every time it did that, it took weeks to comb the matting out.
"When she was a child of three, Catherine's parents took her on a ride on the Staten Island Ferry."
Vincent waited a full minute, motionless, before he exploded. "SO?!?!?!?" he roared.
"So, she had a little stuffed toy in her tiny hands on that trip, Vincent. A little fluffy lion. She… she was leaning on the rail shortly after the ferry got under way on its journey and…she told me the beloved toy fell from her grasp and plunged into the murky Hudson River and sank, never to be seen again." He waited for another dramatic pause and then resumed. "So she thinks."
Vincent stared at his somewhat demented mentor for a very long time in stunned silence. "You've outdone yourself this time," he nearly whispered.
"Eh?" Father's head came up.
"You're going to tell me," Vincent pronounced around his fangs, "that I was some little diaper-wetter's stuffed toy, and that I fell in the futzing Hudson River and I was magically brought to life, and that some bozo fished me out and shoved me in a paper bag and tossed me in a dumpster?!!!!" Vincent's voice had reached an octave that the Phantom would have been very interested in. Probably also NASA.
Father shrugged. "I figured what with all the toxic waste and who-knows-what floating in the river…" He trailed off in a semi-scholarly fashion.
"Why do I bother?!!!" Vincent shouted. "Every time I ask, the answer gets more whacko! Look, Dad, just forget it. Forget it! I'll make something up myself. I'll stop wondering why Catherine can't keep herself from cuddling with me and just resign myself to enjoying it. OKAY????" He stormed off down the corridor in a whirlwind of dramatic mist and cape.
Blasted demented old coot, Vincent thought uncharitably as he headed for some remote chamber of the tunnels to brood in until it was time for his next can of Fancy Feast. Ask him a straight question, and all I get are Loony Tunes. He snarled inarticulately to himself, and reached backward to rub once again at the irritating, mysterious little label at the back of his neck that bore the cryptic little word in faded letters: Dakin…